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Hydrogen Sulfide and Longevity

Can That Rotten Egg Stuff Extend Life?


Updated December 10, 2007

Can a chemical put your body into a kind of cellular hibernation? That is what research at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center is trying to figure out. Researchers have used a chemical known as Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S) to put mice into a "reverse metabolic hibernation." Now I'll be honest with you, I'm not entirely sure what that means, but the result was an increased life span for the mice.

Life Extension, Longevity and Hydrogen Sulfide

This study takes hydrogen sulfide (the stuff that makes rotten eggs for stinky) and put it in nematodes (tiny worms). When the nematodes lived in an environment where the air contained a low concentration of hydrogen sulfide, the worms did not hibernate metabolically, but their life span (and heat tolerance) still increased. This was repeated 15 times for confirmation and 77% of the exposed worms lived an average of 9.6 days longer than the non-exposed "control worms." This number of days may not sound like much to you and me. But to a nematode, it is a 70% increase in life span.

So, Why Does It Work?

Good question and one that has no answer (yet). Researchers ruled out some complex explanations involving insulin and other genetic pathways. They now believe that the hydrogen sulfide helps regulate the SIR-2.1 gene, a gene known to be important in longevity. When this gene is "overactive," it can increase the lifespan of other worms (c. elegans) by 20%.

So Should I Do Aromatherapy with Rotten Eggs?

Not yet. While the nematode has enough similarities with humans to be a great research model, there really isn't any evidence that living in an environment with higher hydrogen sulfide levels will extend life in humans. Researchers are excited about this line of research as a way of potentially "buying time" for critically ill patients by slowing their metabolism while waiting for treatment to take effect. But if you would like your nematodes to live 70% longer, you might consider this.


Mark Roth and Dana Miller. Could hydrogen sulfide hold the key to a long life?. Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center Press Release. Dec. 4, 2007.

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